The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus

Should you venture into Queens for this parable on immediate gratification?

By Andrew Andrews

Mephistopheles (Preston Fox) is confronted by Faustus (Conner Keef), as hissing spirits watch from a distance, in The Secret Theatre's production of Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus. Original photo by Steven Speliotis.

Faust is the classic “buy now, pay later” story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly knowledge and temporary power.

As the foremost playwright of Elizabethan tragedy before Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe’s version of the tale has survived more than four hundred years, giving us a glimpse of that era’s infatuation with magic and necromancy.

In Marlowe’s take, Dr Faustus has become dissatisfied with his studies, and summons the demon Mephistopheles as his personal servant, providing the answer to any question and performing any deed Faustus desires for a period of twenty four years.

In return, Faustus pledges his soul to eternal damnation, and when Lucifer appears after the requisite term to claim his reward, Faustus fails his last chance to repent, and gives the devil his due.

I’ve spoken before about the virtues of The Secret Theatre. Recalling last fall when I reviewed The Seeing Place’s modern-day interpretation of the Faustus legend, I was excited to take the quick ride back to Court Square to experience Marlowe’s version of the play.

Truth be told, I’ve always considered Kit Marlowe to be a “wannabe” Shakespeare, even though The Bard is known to have been influenced by Kit, who was first to the field.

Alternating between prose and blank verse, I find Marlowe’s dialogue easier to follow when he’s not rhyming, but his poetry never feels quite as clever or pointed as Shakespeare’s.

There’s a lot to appreciate about this production. The effort that’s gone into the sound and lighting design outshines most shows at this price point, and it’s obvious that the large ensemble has invested significant time in their preparation. The movement of the hissing spirits is highly choreographed, and although some of the roles might have been cast out of necessity, most of the actors fit their parts well.

The “glam” interpretation of Mephistopheles is allusive yet elusive, suggesting that Marlowe may have intended to link homosexuality to blasphemy, although many scholars believe he was gay or bisexual himself.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to catch this production is the opportunity to experience a work by one of The Bard’s contemporaries, at a price that’s worth every penny and doesn’t break the bank.

If you enjoy sitting in at any of the countless free outdoor performances of Shakespeare each year throughout the city, I believe you owe it to yourself to hop on the train to Queens to catch the next showing of The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus.

And you’d better hurry, because this short run ends on December 15th.


Andrew Andrews attended The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr Faustus at The Secret Theatre in Manhattan on Thursday, December 5, 2019 @ 7:30pm to write this review.